Tag Archives: Achievement Gap

America’s Racial Achievement Gap and the Toxic Mantra of ‘Can’t’

by Christopher Paslay

It’s time to stop telling minority students they “can’t,” and start instilling the skills and values of “can.”

The notion that black and Latino students can’t compete with white and Asian students in school is gaining national momentum.  Amazingly, this attitude isn’t coming from crazy right wing conservatives or Tea Party zombies (conservatives and Tea Party members actually lobby for a colorblind society where the divisive politics of race, such as affirmative action, are finally removed once and for all), but from civil rights groups and so called “social justice” advocates who claim to have the best interests of minorities in mind.

The Florida Board of Education is currently holding minority students to lower standards by stating that 74 percent of blacks, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of whites and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level by 2018.  Last month, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, along with a coalition of other educational and civil rights groups, filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of eight elite New York City schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students; the reading portion of SHSAT requires students to write in coherent paragraphs, use logical reasoning to answer questions, and analyze text; and the math portion requires knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry.

The notion that minority students “can’t,” promoted under the guise of social justice, has infiltrated 21st century public education in many ways.  In addition to admissions tests being “discriminatory,” minorities can’t compete with whites and Asians because they are being unfairly diagnosed as emotionally disturbed (there is little documented evidence of actual misdiagnosis); are being unfairly disciplined and suspended (actual cases of racial discrimination by public school officials are practically non existent); are being “pushed-out” of schools (not a single school administrator has ever been prosecuted for forcing a child out); are faced with conscious or unconscious racial discrimination by school teachers (nary a documented case exists); lack money and funds (hundreds of billions of dollars have been pumped into schools in poor and disadvantaged communities since 1965 via Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act); and of course, the trickle-down effects of slavery (which officially ended in America over 149 years ago, on January 1st, 1863).

How much these issues are impacting the educations of minorities is debatable.  But one thing is clear: these ideas are being repeatedly communicated to minority students (and their parents) as to why they can’t compete with their white and Asian peers; these issues also seek extrinsic solutions (which students have no personal control over) rather than focusing on the intrinsic values and behaviors they can control.

In 2010, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), headquartered in Princeton, NJ, issued a policy information a report titled “The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped.”  The report highlighted two periods in the fight to close the racial achievement gap in America: a period of progress from the Civil Rights Movement to the 1980s when the achievement gap between black and white students was cut in half; and a period of stagnation from the late 1980’s to the present when the achievement gap leveled off and in some cases, widened.

The first period, the one marked by significant progress, was most likely the result of desegregating schools and upgrading conditions for minorities.  Suffocating racial discrimination and the bogus notion of “separate but equal” was tackled and for the first time gave many minorities access to equal educational resources, such as books, clean schools, rigorous curriculum, qualified teachers, etc.  For the most part, systematic inequalities were corrected, helping minorities gain valuable ground on their white peers; this progress continued steadily for several decades.

But in the late 1980s, something happened.  The achievement gap in America stopped closing.  This perplexed many education advocates because it was around this time that the multicultural education and social justice movements started to bloom.  The ETS report cites disappearing fathers, the decline of the nuclear family, concentrated deprivation, nutrition, and mobility issues as reasons for the stop in progress.

But there is a larger trend that explains why the gap has stopped closing: social justice advocates and civil rights groups have been placing too big of an emphasis on systematic change and not enough emphasis on individual transformation.  And why not?  For nearly 30 years, fighting for changing the system worked wonders (as noted above).  Tragically, however, it appears that this mode of operation is no longer garnishing the same kind of results.  Advocating for societal change appears to have hit its peak in terms of educational achievement 25 years ago.  That’s not to say it’s time to end the fight to bring equity to the system; the system still has room for improvement.

But there is a very large, relatively unexplored approach for closing the achievement gap, and that is through personal empowerment.  Personal empowerment, as in the mantra “you are the captain of your own ship,” rather than the message that “you are a victim of paralyzing curcumstances.”  It is the idea of keeping high standards through “yes, you can,” rather than employing low expectations through “can’t, can’t, can’t.”

All change is self-change.  Until civil rights groups and social justice advocates embrace this reality, America’s racial achievement gap will remain frozen in time.

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Standardized Testing

Obsession with Race is Killing Academic Excellence

by Christopher Paslay

Policies aimed at making all students the same are crippling achievement. 

The Handicapper General—AKA the current United States White House—has struck again.  President  Barack Obama recently signed an executive order to enact an educational initiative aimed at helping not all American children in public schools succeed but only those of certain races.  Called the “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans,” the policy will dole out resources to children not based on merit or achievement, but by skin color.    

According to Education Week:

The new education initiative for African Americans joins similar White House efforts aimed at Hispanics, American Indian and Alaska Natives, and Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. President Obama, in 2010, set up a similar effort to bring attention to, and strengthen, the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.

(Note: Current White House education policies designed specifically for white students, who are innocent of the crimes of their ancestors, do not exist.)  

The goals of the new White House education initiative are to close the racial achievement gap and give all children an equal opportunity at a quality education.  But it goes further than that.  The initiative also advocates for equal achievement.  Thus, if two groups of students are given the same educational opportunity and one group outperforms the other, such achievement must be equalized to ensure that everyone is the same (that there is no achievement gap).            

While these goals seem admirable on the surface, they are promoting a brand of educational socialism that is having a harmful overall effect on high achievers in American public schools.  Instead of pushing assimilation (encouraging struggling groups to adopt the culture and work habits of their more successful peers), initiatives like those enacted by the White House call for cultural pluralism (forcing the successful groups to compromise their culture and work habits to fit those of the struggling students).       

Take, for example, the White House’s goal of addressing the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions of African Americans in schools.  What this goal implies is that somehow black children are being unfairly expelled and suspended from school (civil rights organizations like to attribute this to racism and cultural insensitivity of white teachers), and that more needs to be done to keep such children in classrooms.  In other words, the perspective is that there is nothing inherently wrong with the behavior or actions of these children, but that the system is simply failing to accommodate their needs.  Put still another way, the children with discipline issues don’t need to change their behavior to suit the functionality of the group (assimilation), rather, the group as a whole must be compromised to accommodate the atypical behavior of the child (cultural pluralism).

Interestingly, with all the accusations of racism and discrimination being made by civil rights advocates and folks like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, actual documented cases of teachers discriminating against their students based on race are practically nonexistent.  However, the canard that black students are suspended and expelled at higher rates than their white peers primarily because of the cultural insensitivity of their white teachers (not because of genuine behavior issues that stem from environmental factors such as poverty or a high rate of out-of-wedlock-births) continues to be perpetuated.        

The result of this is that it is harder to suspend and expel violent and unruly students who happen to be African American; these dysfunctional children are forced to coexist with their functional hard working peers, and the integrity and quality of everyone’s education is compromised. 

In this system of cultural pluralism, it’s not that students are late for class, it’s just that being “on-time” is a matter of cultural perspective.  It’s not that students are violent or misbehaving, it’s just that they are frustrated with an oppressive dominant (white) establishment.  It’s not that certain students fail to do their work, it’s just that where these students come from, work ethic has a different definition.  It’s not that students can’t work independently and be responsible for their own grade, it’s just that these particular students come from a collectivist culture and must be allowed to work in a group and share answers. 

In this system of cultural pluralism, students are free to speak a broken, grammatically incorrect form of English known as Ebonics.  In this system, classes are no longer tracked by ability level but are rostered willy-nilly under the guise of having high expectations (but not expectations so high as to believe that these same students could acquire a government ID in order to vote).  In this system, dropouts—who consistently waste everybody’s time including their own—are renamed “pushouts.”  In this system, students are not required to respect the teacher, rather, teachers must respect the students. 

Those who refuse to admit cultural pluralism is harming American education need to understand that our obsession with skin color and closing achievement gaps—our obsession with making everyone the same—is taking a toll on America’s best and brightest. While the average achievement of students hasn’t changed significantly in the past 50 years, “the acquired verbal skills of gifted American students have declined dramatically, as illustrated by the trends in the SAT-Verbal test,” wrote noted education scholar Charles Murray.  “. . . this decline cannot be blamed on changes in the SAT pool.  It’s based on all seventeen-year-olds.  Some sort of failure to educate the gifted is to blame.”   

Scores on Advanced Placement tests have declined as well.  According to a 2010 article in USA Today:

The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests hit a record high last year, but the portion who fail the exams — particularly in the South — is rising as well.

…More than two in five students (41.5%) earned a failing score of 1 or 2, up from 36.5% in 1999. In the South, a Census-defined region that spans from Texas to Delaware, nearly half of all tests — 48.4% — earned a 1 or 2, a failure rate up 7 percentage points from a decade prior and a statistically significant difference from the rest of the country.

While the current White House complains that our education system is no longer producing leading engineers and scientists, this same administration enacts policies that serve to handicap high achievers, thus lowering the bar for all children in an effort to make everyone equal. 

Instead of pushing socialistic policies that prohibit America’s education system from being a genuine world leader, we must fight for freedom and true academic competition—a system based on merit and individual achievement and not on the suffocating basis of race.

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Arne Duncan

The myth of racial inequality in Philadelphia public schools

 

 

Despite accusations of segregation, academic achievement and failure in district schools transcend neighborhoods and racial boundaries.

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

There’s a line in the movie JFK where Kevin Costner explains to the jury that theoretical physics can prove that an elephant can hang from a cliff with his tail tied to a daisy.

         

“But use your eyes, your common sense,” Costner tells the jurors.    

         

This is good advice when it comes to the racial achievement gap in the Philadelphia School District.  Recently, district and city officials have suggested that unequal school conditions are the reason why white students have higher math and reading skills than black and Latino students.

         

Philadelphia, like many other Northeastern cities, has been slow to address and remove the policy barriers that have served to keep poor and minority students in under-resourced schools,” Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter’s secretary of education recently stated.

         

It’s not my policy to look at people in terms of skin color, but since the race card has been placed squarely on the table, it’s worth investigating the matter further.

         

Let’s start with the racial make-up of several of the highest performing public schools in the city (as well as the state). 

         

Despite claims of segregation, CAPA, Engineering and Science, and Girls High have student bodies that are majority black.  Central is evenly balanced between black (30.7 percent), white (31.7 percent) and Asian (28.8 percent), and Masterman is also very diverse. 

         

Let’s now look at the demographics of the so-called “white” schools in the Northeast.  According to school district data, Frankford, Fells, Lincoln and Northeast all have more black students than white, or any other race for that matter.  Washington is also very diverse, with more non-white students than white. 

         

The interesting part about these “privileged” Northeast schools is that all five of them are empowerment schools—which means they are failing because they haven’t met the standards set forth in No Child Left Behind. 

         

The same is true for the Northeast’s Austin Meehan Middle School and Fitzpatrick Elementary—they have more non-white students than white, and both are categorized as failing. 

         

A school that is predominantly white is Kensington’s Charles Carroll High School (54.8% white), but once again there are no extra privileges or resources here, because this school is also failing by state standards. 

         

A school that isn’t failing is Strawberry Mansion, which is 98 percent black and located in the heart of North Philadelphia.  Neither is Bok in South Philadelphia (77.3 percent black); or Communications Technology in Southwest Philadelphia (98 percent black); or High School of the Future in West Philadelphia (94.7 percent black).  And the list goes on and on.  

         

So where’s the unequal opportunity?

         

When you analyze the actual numbers, it becomes clear that Philadelphia’s racial achievement gap is more about politics than it is about a “dark stain” of inequality.  There is no legitimate racial discrimination taking place—the district’s 85 empowerment schools, as well as the ones making Adequate Yearly Progress—are evenly distributed across racial lines and neighborhood boundaries. 

         

But even if there were some kind of discrimination evident, it would clearly have to be of the black-on-black variety.      

         

Mayor Michael Nutter is black (as was John Street before him);  Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is black; School Reform Commission chair Robert L. Archie Jr. is black; 61 percent of Philadelphia public school students (and their parents) are black. 

         

This, of course, is opposed to the 13 percent of the district students who are white.

         

White students may score higher on standardized math and reading tests than their black and Latino counterparts, but educational opportunities in schools are only the tip of the iceberg.

         

In a newly released report titled Parsing the Achievement Gap II, the Educational Testing Service tracked national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to student achievement. 

         

Of the 16 factors, nine were directly related to a child’s home environment.  Minority children struggle in schools for reasons such as lack of parental involvement, low birth weight, hunger and poor nutrition, exposure to lead and mercury, excessive television watching, and the fact that they are not read to enough as babies, among other things.

         

If we want all children to succeed in school, it’s time to take a holistic approach to education.  We not only need more resources in struggling schools, but we need true buy-in from parents and the community. 

         

We all must take responsibility for educating our city’s children, and resist the familiar temptation to blame our shortcomings on racism.      

 

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan, Holistic Education

The Notebook responds to Chalk and Talk article

 

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

On March 3rd, I posted an article here on Chalk and Talk headlined Do Phila. teachers really view minority children as criminals?  In the article I criticized the Philadelphia Public School Notebook for running an objectionable editorial (Changing the odds) that suggested Philadelphia public school teachers were racist and afraid of the communities they serve.

 

Two days later I received an email from Paul Socolar, editor of the Notebook, requesting that we open a dialogue in order to address some of the issues I had with his newspaper.  Paul also asked me to reread my March 3rd article, and to pay careful attention to its tone, which Paul felt had degenerated into name calling; he took particular offense to the fact that I called the Notebook “irresponsible”. 

 

I reread the post, and although I didn’t feel I had called anyone names, I did agree that it had an edge to it.  I explained that this was a reaction to the accusations contained in the Notebook’s Winter 2008 edition, Focus on Changing the Odds, where the newspaper more than once alluded to the fact that teachers were racist. 

 

Paul admitted that I wasn’t the only teacher who felt this way.  However, he suggested that I focus on the actual points of disagreement, rather than throwing around so many labels.  In order for both of us to tone down our rhetoric, he wanted to know what other editions of the Notebook may have offended me. 

 

As I went through the Notebook’s archives, I realized that these articles were not so much offensive to teachers as they were unfriendly.  Here were the gripes I had:            

 

Lack of Parental Involvement:  The Notebook fails to scrutinize parents and explore all the ways mothers and fathers are failing their children.  They suggest parental involvement is low because schools aren’t “welcoming”; teachers are “intimidating”; announcements aren’t made early and often enough; literature isn’t translated into other languages; etc.     

 

The achievement gap: The Notebook fails to explore the societal root of the problem, and refuses to acknowledge that many black children are plagued by serious social ills.  They place much of the blame on racist teachers.    

 

Safety issues:  The Notebook fails to admit Philadelphia neighborhoods are sometimes dangerous and that violent crime exists.  They chastise teachers for not wanting to teach in the poorest schools because they harbor unfounded prejudices and are “afraid of the communities they serve”.  

 

Inappropriate student behavior: The Notebook fails to acknowledge the violent and unruly actions of too many children (many of them minorities).  They often explain these behaviors away and blame them on the teacher’s unconscious racial prejudice or the counselor’s wrongful diagnosis. 

 

English language learners:  The Notebook fails to recommend ways immigrant families can shoulder some of the language burden.  Instead, they call under-resourced and overwhelmed schools and teachers “unwelcoming” and demand better services.

 

The Voice of Teachers:  The Notebook rarely incorporates into their articles publications that represent the voice of classroom teachers.  Instead, they consistently quote studies and statistics from civil rights organizations that tend to paint schools and teachers in an unflattering light.    

 

Philadelphia Student Union: The Notebook fails to emphasize the fact that the Philadelphia Student Union must strive to hold its peers accountable for contributing to the chaotic nature of schools.  Instead, they consistently harp on the fact that parents and students “feel disrespected by teachers”.           

 

Writers and Bloggers:  The Notebook does not have a single writer or blogger that is a current Philadelphia public school teacher.

 

After reading my concerns, Paul admitted that teachers do need a stronger voice in his newspaper, and he insisted that he is working on this situation.  He also explained that the Notebook’s mission is to make schools better, and that their focus isn’t necessarily on the other parts of the education equation—parents, communities, or the students themselves; Paul did admit however that the problems schools face cannot be solved in isolation.

 

In addition, Paul stated that he wouldn’t mind having a public discussion on the Notebook’s blog about most of the issues I listed above.  I may take him up on this offer.  For now, I’m posting these concerns here on Chalk and Talk, and I’m asking people on all sides of the argument for constructive feedback. 

 

One final note: I’d like to thank Paul Socolar for engaging in our email dialogue, and for taking my concerns to heart.  And I’d also like to reiterate my pledge to watch the tone of my posts, as long as the Notebook strives to be more teacher-friendly.     

 

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Filed under Achievement Gap, English Language Learners, Eye on The Notebook, Parental Involvement, Philadelphia Student Union